Hexyz Force is an interesting departure for developer Sting. In contrast to many of their recent games, which feature extremely technical gameplay mechanics, Hexyz Force is setup much more like some of their older games like the Evolution series, with a mix between traditional RPG gameplay mechanics with a unique and quirky Sting touch applied. Atlus USA, the publisher for the game in North America, recently gave Gaming Union a hands-on preview of the game, which is set to be released later this month. Should RPG fans take a closer look at the game, or is it simply a traditional, by-the-books RPG?
The preview started off by showing off the game's data install feature, which is available for players who purchase the UMD version of the game (the digital PSN version runs straight off the storage memory, so it already 'includes' this feature by default). While Hexyz Force was already made to load the game quickly, even without the data install, this option takes up about 500 KB of space, much lower than many other PSP titles with the same option which takes up much more memory space. The entire process, according to Atlus, takes about five minutes, and can be done at any time from the game's title screen.
Playing off of the optimized approach, Hexyz Force also includes many other minor tweaks to the standard 'console RPG on a handheld' formula which fans should enjoy. At any time during the game's non-animated cutscenes or while the players and enemies are carrying out their attacks in battle, the player can fast-forward the action, skipping through the dialog or battle animations. Unlike most console-style portable RPGs which force the player to spend hours getting to the next area to save, Hexyz Force is much more geared towards players who might have limited time to play but still want that console 'feel', although those with more time to spend can just as easily go through multiple save points and still get the same feeling from the game. Atlus has confirmed that like many of Sting's other titles, a Hard Mode is unlockable after completing the game, so having the option to speed through parts of the game you have already seen is a very nice touch that's generally unexpected in the portable RPG genre. There is also some other minor portable touches, such as a mini-map in dungeons, the ability to forge items outside of the towns, and a point-and-click map interface so players don't need to wander aimlessly across a world map to find their next location. An in-game log is also included, which stores the next objective for the party as well as listing the various in-game terms used by the game's characters, and by pressing the square button during dialog, players can view the previous text, in case they accidentally skipped through it and wanted to re-read it.
As we stated before in our earlier preview of the game last month, Hexyz Force features two distinct storylines, one featuring the knight Levant and the other following the cleric-in-training Cecelia. As expected, Levant is more tuned towards hands-on combat, while Cecelia is more tuned towards healing arts. Those who might want to make Levant focus more on magic, or focus Cecelia more on attacking skills are in luck, as Hexyz Force features an intricate, deep weapon customization system that makes both possible. New skills in Hexyz Force are learned by strengthening your weapons by collecting FP (force power), which is gained in battle. These skills range from those which augment each character's innate traits, to those which give them new abilities they might not have otherwise had access to. Players will need to take care of these weapons, as their repeated use will eventually wear them down, either breaking them or requiring them to be repaired.
According to Atlus, both character's storylines will intersect with each other at times during the game, with the two parties eventually coming together near the game's finale to battle against the final boss. A newly revealed addition to this gameplay mechanic, however, is the ability for the player to change the game's dialog based on their actions in the current storyline and if they have played through the other character's storyline up to that point. This was present during one segment of the hands-on preview where Cecelia (with Atlus playing Levant's side) used a different dialog choice than she would have normally if her side had not been completed. While it is unknown how many times this factor comes into play, it should be a decent incentive for those who want to fully experience the game's storyline.
These branching dialog choices in Hexyz Force aren't just superficial text changes, however. Along with the player's other action, such as running/staying in battle or completing side-quests, one will be graded at the end of each chapter, pushing the game's world more towards the side of creation or destruction. This balance affects the game's ending, which has three main types (creation, neutral and destruction), with a few other minor changes to the endings depending on other various factors in each character's storyline. Unlike some RPGs which feature the typical knight and cleric archetypes, neither Levant nor Cecelia are predisposed towards either side, so players can guide their development as they wish.
While Hexyz Force looks like it features a more traditional turn-based RPG battle system, looks don't always tell the whole story. The game's battle system revolves around an element-based system which rewards players for 'stacking' elements by casting similar ones in succession. The bigger the stack, the more damage will be dealt. However, the enemies also have access to this system as well, so players who aimlessly cast spells and don't pay attention to the combat order (which can be found in the right-hand side of the screen) will fall quickly. Like many other turn-based RPGs, coming up from behind the enemy will net the party a free turn, with the same happening for the enemies if players are snuck up upon. Hexyz Force also features an achievement system for completing specific goals in the game, such as in combat or finding specific items in the dungeons.
Hexyz Force is set to be released on May 27 for $29.99 in North America. From what we've seen of the game, this is a extremely well-polished title which should satisfy console RPG fans and those who enjoy the genre but don't have as much time to put into it as they once used to, even if the game doesn't light the RPG world on fire. Those looking for a long and rewarding PSP title this May should give Hexyz Force a second look --- it may just change your expectations of portable RPGs on the platform.